Thu 7 Sep 2006
One curious reader asks “What is greenwashing?”
From the Center for Media & Democracy’s Sourcewatch project, greenwashing is defined thusly:
“Greenwashing is what corporations do when they try to make themselves look more environmentally friendly than they really are.”  (here)
“Greenwash” is defined in the 10th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as the “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.” Its inclusion in the dictionary indicates the significance and permanence of a growing trend among corporations to take advantage of the many consumers who look for products with negative environmental impact.  (here)
“Earthday Resources for Living Green has released this report annually for the last 11 years to call attention to the past year’s worst greenwashers, corporations that have made misleading or false claims abut the environmental benefits of their products and industries. “Don’t Be Fooled” describes companies’ greenwashing attempts as well as the truth behind their misleading claims.” Current and past reports are available [online (here)].
The Washington Post has produced a Special Report titled BIG GREEN (here) which as series of investigative articles exposes the corporate infestation of The Nature Conservancy and “documents on the organization’s transformation from a grassroots group to a corporate juggernaut.”
Frequent PR Watch contributor Bob Burton has prepared a 5 page paper titled “Corporations Will Save the World, won’t they?” which describes how corporations lure their environmentalist adversaries into the illusion of cooperative engagements such as Community Advisory Panels which result in a win-win result for the corporations by reducing the energy of their adversaries, and turning the media attention away from environmental advocacy against the evil corporation into an image of the corporation attempting to benefit the environment.  (here [PDF])
“Several recent incidents show that, when faced with environmental crises attributable to business interests cozy with the White House, the administration has developed an alternative response: Suppress, Ignore, Preempt.”  (here)
Greenwashing is a form of public relations propaganda which gives something the appearance of being environmentally friendly when it is, in fact, not.
An example of this would be an oil company being forced in a court of law to create a habitat for endangered species in its oil fields. Greenwashing would occur when the company creates a magazine ad campaign that is complete with paintings of a beautiful moonlit oil field and nature coexisting, with the image assisted by text explaining how much that company cares for Nature and endangered species, as well as how nature can beautifully coexist with oil wells, factories, or whatever.
Another example is naming a piece of legislation “Clear Skies” when the legislation will not result in sky clearing.
In December 2005 the New York Times noted that corporations including Ford, Exxon Mobil, BP, General Electric and Alcan “appear to be spending ever-bigger chunks of their advertising budgets to promote” what critics call greenwashing. New ad campaigns from WPP, Omnicom Group, and Interpublic Group tout corporate “environmental do-goodism.”  (here)
“Oil companies, under attack for reaping windfall profits from soaring fuel prices, are trying to position themselves as part of the solution to energy problems rather than the cause. Manufacturers of fuel-efficient automobiles, jet engines or other green products are recognizing that they can burnish their image even as they promote their products. And companies in all industries are trying to make socially conscious investors and customers comfortable about buying their products and shares.”  (here)
A more extensive overview is available here.
[UPDATE:] And why did they ask? Carolina North: Crawford-Brown’s Counter-principles